Sweet 16 Teams Broken Down

Here again is my #Eyetestlopedia trimmed down to only Sweet 16 teams.

I left my thoughts from before the tournament and made a quick addition to each team after the first three rounds of observation.

Arizona

Strength:  Athletes everywhere
Weakness:  Occasional droughts on offense
Before the tournament I wrote:
Arizona has one of the best defensive point guards in the country.  This is T.J. McConnell’s senior year, and you can see that he’ll do everything to win.  Stanley Johnson has received the accolades he deserves.  However, if Arizona is going to win a national championship, he needs to produce similar to another freshman: Carmelo Anthony.  Kaleb Tarczewski is a great post player.  He’s just a junior, but I’m waiting for an explosion that sends him into the NBA draft.  With Johnson’s emergence, Tarczewki’s offensive numbers have actually gone down this year.  But he took over the Oregon game.  A high efficiency around the rim, including some game-sealing dunks, put that PAC Championship away.  Also watch out for Gabe York, one of the best shooters in the country.  If teams try to get cute and zone-defense the Wildcats, York can torch them.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
This time has a closing window to win a championship before McConnell graduates and the rest of the starting lineup goes pro.  Side note:  I think outgoing K-State scorer Marcus Foster should join the Wildcats in 2017.

Duke

Strength:  Freshmen who play like upperclassmen
Weakness:  Free throws
Before the tournament I wrote:
Despite all the publicity that Kentucky’s freshmen get, Duke has the two top freshmen in the country, in my opinion.  Jahliil Okafor is the best big man in basketball.  Tyus Jones is the most clutch player in America.  Okafor showed that next-level gear against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in a street fight won by the Blue Devils.  Jones showcased his ice-in-the-veins nature against Wisconsin, St. John’s and UNC, to name a few.  Against UNC, he scored the last seven of 9 points in regulation.  Duke won in overtime, despite hitting only 15 of 30 free throws in regulation.  This team definitely plays better against bigger teams with the final Plumlee (two others played for Duke) brother.  Rasheed Sulaimon is the first suspension in Duke program history (in who can remember how long).  Freshman Justise Winslow has picked up the slack since Sulaimon’s absence.  He’s scored double digits in every game since.  He averaged 14.5 points in the first six games after the departure.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Okafor is running the court well.  I’ll be interested to see if he can against Utah due to the Running Utes’ suspect of transition defense.  Cook’s shot selection has been questionable at times, especially deep, early shot clock looks.

Gonzaga 
Strength: Experience, inside-out offense
Weakness: Athleticism on defense
Before the tournament I wrote:
I truly believe this is the best Gonzaga team I have ever seen.  There was a ton of off-season hype, but they are playing up to it.  Sabonis’s international experience effectively sheds his freshman label, Wiltjer is literally a champion, and Pangos (by all accounts) is healthy this year.Hampton Strength: Guard play Weakness: Post scoringCredit the Hampton Pirates for a very strong performance in the MEAC Championship game.  This team has terrific guard play, a trio that scored in the teens and twenties apiece versus Delaware State.  Hampton double-teamed the post and stud center Kendall Gray.  Gray was kept to just 6 points and fouled out as the Pirates were relentless to the rim.  They don’t score a ton from inside, but that’s okay.  They turned the ball over only 7 times and registered 13 assists in a relatively low scoring win before the free throw shooting contest began.  I just looked up the stats.  Hampton is inside the nation’s top 50 in rebounds but outside the top 300 in assists.  I guess that’s what happens when a team’s guards can all score.  Also take into account that both Hampton and Delaware State finish the season with records around .500.  Despite this fact, I think Hampton will compete in the first half of a first round game.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
I like Gonzaga as the best value pick to win a championship at this point.

Kentucky 
Strength: That you don’t need me to explain them
Weakness:  That you haven’t seen them lose yet
Before the tournament I wrote:
Turn on ESPN or any other mainstream analysis.  Talk to me on April 1st.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
I don’t believe this team likes to run the court, I think they like to score on easy buckets.  There were instances when Cincinnati beat them in transition which were a red flag.  West Virginia is the worst-possible matchup for Kentucky of 4, 5 seeds remaining and Wichita State would be a nightmare for them as a 7 seed.  I agree with those who say that Kentucky has a better chance of losing during this weekend versus the Final Four weekend.

Louisville
Strength:  Size inside
Weakness:  Missing Chris Jones
Before the tournament I wrote:
I ragged on this team for missing a bunch of buckets at home at the Yum Brands center mid-season while it investigated whether its own rims were tight.  I called out Montrezl Harrell for getting bullied against Willie Callie-Stein.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Much respect to this team for betting Northern Iowa and shutting me up in the process.  UNI was one of the best 5 seeds in my recent memory and Louisville made them look like a CYO team.

Michigan State

Strength: Ability to get red-hot shooting
Weakness:  Free throws
Before the tournament I wrote:
Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, this is a transitional year for Michigan State.  Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice can get super hot from 3 at any point.  However, I question when the Spartans do not feature senior stud Brandon Dawson late in games.  A cast of youngsters like “Tum-tum” are carving a niche for themselves with ninja-like stealthiness.  However, my face turns purple like Tom Izzo in a much-needed timeout when I try to brainstorm who on this team can go get a bucket at the rim.  When they do get to the free throw line, Sparty is in last place in the Big 10 in free throw percentage.  It hovered in the low 60’s for a percentage.  Late this season, the answer has been Trice and Valentine from behind the line.  Live by the three, die by the three.  We shall see what happens.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Holy crap, did Travis Trice deliver on much-needed scoring against UVA.  Oklahoma’s guards need to have the defensive game of their lifetimes.

NC State

Strength: Lacey’s leadership
Weakness:  Assist to turnover ratio
Before the tournament I wrote:
When you watch the Wolfpack, the eye test would tell you its strength is ball-handlers.  However, they average 12 assists to 11 turnovers per game.  The Wolfpack rank outside of the top 250 in total assists per game.  A strength of theirs is creating turnovers with its guards hands and making the opponent’s guards work hard on defense.  That doesn’t necessarily equate with sharing the ball.  I love Trevor Lacey’s leadership.  He transfers from Alabama, where he played in some SEC battles over his three year career there.  LSU, meanwhile, has fluctuated between Josh Gray and Tim Quarterman handling the primary point guard responsibilities.  I see this game as looking like the most street-ballish game of the Thursday/Friday combo.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Congrats on a Sweet 16 run, but it’s game over.

Notre Dame

Strength:  Can score from all 5 positions
Weakness:  Not a great defensive team
Before the Sweet 16 I wrote:
Is it just me, or has this team been a perennial 6 seed my entire lifetime?  (That would be 32 years, for those counting at home).  A six seed and no Sweet 16, in most cases.  On defense, my theory is that they don’t see an overwhelming amount of dribble penetration in practice.  Therefore, when players put their head down and don’t look to pass, sometimes the Ole’ defense is employed to let them score.  The guy who jumps out at me in watching is the center, Augustine.  He can run the floor as well as accept feeds on a half court set.  Jackson, Cauvington and Grant are the mainstays you can count on.  I think this team will be one of the best value picks to make a Final Four.  I’d imagine they’d register somewhere between 50/1 and 125/1 depending on the timing and/or casino.  Watching this team playing offense can be a beautiful thing.  The ball really does continuously move.  There isn’t a ton of dribbling into dead-ends, which plagues the college game in my opinion.  Of course, literally as I’m writing this, Notre Dame is blowing an enormous lead against Miami.  The defensive rebounding, and toughness in general, made me question whether that 6 seed will ever develop to a Sweet 16 after all.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Okay, so they’re not a 6 seed, but a 6 seeded Butler team almost out-scrapped them to a victory.  I think Wichita State is scrappier and will win this match-up.  Notre Dame has won seven in a row and is due for a loss.

Oklahoma
Strength:  Heady guard play
Weakness:  Elite athletes in the paint
Before the tournament I wrote:
Coach Lon Krueger is the only coach in D1 history to lead five programs to NCAA tournaments.  I think this is the best team he has ever had at Oklahoma.  I’ve liked Spangler’s toughness for the past two seasons and know he gets the added janitorial services of TayShawn Taylor.  As well as those big guys do the dirty work down low, they will rarely posterize players with above the rim athleticism.  You’ve seen this liability at the rim on display in matchups this season against larger Wisconsin and Texas clubs.  It could be their Achilles heal. Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard could possibly be the most balanced back-court trio in America.  Only teams like Wichita State, Gonzaga and Villanova come to mind for comparison-sake.  Watching the Sooners, I don’t think of their identity as a transition scoring team.  However, they quietly are 3rd in the nation in transition scoring!
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Oklahoma vs. Michigan State will be the best game of the Sweet 16 and also the best percentage chance of going to overtime.

UCLA

Strength:  Athleticism in the open floor
Weakness:  Defense
Before the tournament I wrote:
UCLA ranked 80th something overall in the nation in points scored, but outside of the top 200 in field goal percentage.  What does that tell you?  It tells me that they play little defense, play an up-tempo game and take a lot of three-point shots.  This UCLA team also reminds me of many others.  When you say “UCLA basketball,” names come to mind.  Last year it was Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams drafted round one of the NBA.  Two years ago it was Shabazz Muhammad’s team, but other guys don’t come to mind.  This year names like Kevon Looney, Norman Powell and Tony Parker jump off the page.  But can this team play as a team?  My eye test tells me there’s too much street basketball, one-on-one type of stuff for them to excel.  Bryce Alford is an awesome point guard, not just a coach’s son, but he seems to be the only one committed to running an offense.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Temple should still be in over this time.  Good night, Bruins.

Utah

Strength: Point guard play
Weakness: Transition defense
Utah point guard Delon Wright is the real deal.  He is a scoring point guard who can create open jump shots with his penetration.  You’ll hear plenty about him–I’m sure you already have.  However, don’t wait for the Jakob Poeltl train to come rolling into the station.  The Running Utes don’t plan on getting on board his low-post scoring anytime soon.  For now, he is collecting put-back baskets.  As the “Running Utes” nickname would suggest, Utah is just not the team to slow the game down and let its big dog eat.
P.S. Junior forward Jordan Loveridge re-joined the team just before conference play began:
Hours before the Sweet 16:
If Delon Wright scores 22 1/2 or more, Utah wins this game.  We already know he’ll get 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. This game against Duke is one where he has to outscore shorter guards and disrupt the momentum of the Blue Devils in doing so.

West Virginia

Strength: Full court pressure
Weakness: Shooting
Before the tournament I wrote:
Everyone talks about West Virginia’s full court pressure, but I think it’s big man Devin Williams is underrated.  He is strong, tough on the boards, and can hit a free-throwish jump shot if left open.  Juwan Staten is reportedly healthy heading into the tournament.  The Mountaineers rank outside the top 275 in field goal percentage, so they’ll *have to* get some turnovers and easy transition buckets.  Jonathan Holton, a 6’8″ forward who guards the inbound, is a guy to watch out for.  He sets the tone for this defense and can hit the occasional three in a high-energy, open court attack.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
This is the Super Bowl for West Virginia.  They’ve played the underdog card well up to this point.  Let’s see if Juwan Staten can beat those Harrison boys on the outside.

Wichita State 

Strength: Backcourt defense
Weakness: Inside scoring
Before the tournament I wrote:
Wichita State and Indiana mirror each other in a lot of ways.  Wichita State is a tougher team defensively, but each is strong around the perimeter.  Tekele Cotton is one of the nation’s best defensive players at shooting guard.  Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker bring stability in the backcourt.  Wichita State is young on the front court.  That’s where they can be exploited.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Oddly and sadly the story about Wichita State this week has become how coach Greg Marshall is a candidate for the Alabama vacancy.  Don’t give the Shockers more reason to play angry.  I’m putting Notre Dame on a major upset alert.  KU was cruising into its matchup against the Shockers before they stole their lunch money.  Don’t think it can’t happen to Notre Dame.

Wisconsin

Strength: Experience
Weakness:  A go-to scorer against elite teams
Before the tournament I wrote:
Frank Kaminsky is an NBA player, and I respect him for coming back for a senior season, but I don’t see him dominating a game against Arizona, Kentucky, Texas or any other left-side-of-the-bracket team with size.  I think that was evident in the loss at home to Duke earlier this season.  I also expected more point production from Sam Dekker this season.  I know that I’m grasping at straws for a critique of a great team, but that’s kind of the process we’ve all agreed to:  “who’s gonna win your bracket?”  For me, it won’t be Wisconsin.  I feel like the Traeveon Jackson loss will eventually catch up to them.  When Wisconsin lost to Rutgers earlier this year (without Kaminsky), I asked myself “why can’t Sam Dekker take over?”  Nigel Hayes is another guy who will be an NBA player.  However, for the time being, he’s at best the third option scoring for this team.  I think that Wisconsin got a difficult tournament draw, starting with the best 16 seed in Coastal Carolina.  This isn’t your father’s Wisonsin Badger team, which grinds out wins with great defense alone.  They can really score the ball.  But, if for some reason, Kaminsky is controlled, can Hayes and Dekker take over?
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Wisconsin has shown me red flags that are difficult to put my finger on.  That loss against Rutgers still bothers me.  The fact that Jackson’s absence still hasn’t truly hurt them bothers me.  And the way they gave up runs against Coastal Carolina bothers me.  I see this team as a veteran club suspectible to a pesky sleeper still out-playing them.  I don’t like their odds of beating two faster, bigger, more athletic clubs back-to-back in UNC and (potentially) Arizona.

Xavier

Strength: Head Coach Chris Mack
Weakness:  Vulnerable to slow starts
Before the tournament I wrote:
I watched Xavier lose to Butler then really struggle out of the gates in the following game against Villanova.  The Musketeers really lack size at a lot of positions.  Xavier struggles on ball-screen defense at times.  Xavier’s center, senior Matt Stainbrook, probably brings the most stability to the team.  He passes very well out of the post and has some traditional back-to-the-basket game.  Look for the goggles.  (They are Eye Test-approved).  Point guard Dee Davis can get beat by bigger, aggressive, scoring point guards.  But Davis can run an offense!  Xavier will also make you work on your transition defense.  J.P. Macura is a young linguini who can get the net wet when left open.  Let’s do this:  call the Jalen Reynolds the all-America “X” Factor.  Check his stats and status before Xavier enters its respective postseason tournament.  He could be a guy who takes the next step and scores the double digits consistently.
Hours before the Sweet 16:
Given that Jalen Reynolds scored 21 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the Georgia State win, I’d like to say “I called that.”  I think his raw athleticism meets its match here against Arizona.

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